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Letter: Disastrous Government Policies Control Our Planning Decisions

Published on: 17 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 17 Aug, 2022

From: Joss Bigmore

leader of Guildford Borough Council and R4GV borough councillor for Christchurch

In response to: Guildford Seems to Agree – We Need More Social Housing 

It is very convenient for people to blame borough councils entirely for the many poor outcomes of the planning system, but the fact is that this system is legislated in Westminster and handed down to local councils to implement.

This enables the government to deflect the blame for disastrous policies. MPs bemoan the loss of green belt, yet pass laws that make it virtually inevitable across the South East.

The lack of affordable and social housing provision is rightly criticised, yet central government sets the viability rules and enforces allowable profit margins for private developers which make affordable provision virtually non-existent on our urban brownfield sites.

This issue has recently been exacerbated by their failure to control inflation which has increased building costs enormously.

Despite this, GBC will provide 40 per cent affordable homes on our own sites at Guildford Park Road and Weyside Urban Village – sites which GBC controls and where we are able to set the agenda.

We will provide homes with environmental standards far in excess of the legislated minimums.  If we played by government rules we could probably get away with providing no affordable houses and homes with gas boilers.  We will not do this. We will be an exemplar developer and set an example we hope others follow.

The privately developed site at North Street has been criticised for a lack of affordable housing. It is extremely disappointing that government policy actively prevents us from forcing developers to build affordable homes.

However, this development will bring an enormous amount of community gain:  a brand new bus terminal, pedestrianisation of the lower half of North Street, and public squares. Sadly, we won’t benefit from affordable housing, but Guildford will benefit from new facilities that are badly needed.

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Responses to Letter: Disastrous Government Policies Control Our Planning Decisions

  1. Susan Hibbert Reply

    August 17, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    Well said, Joss.

  2. David Smith Reply

    August 18, 2022 at 12:01 am

    I understood GBC owned circa 33 per cent of the North Street site, surely they had a good say about what they wanted to see on it.

    The Guildford Park Road site is however an opportunity to make up for the massive shortfall but why has the site been left empty for so long?

    In terms of new facilities that are badly needed, I have to question public squares and the pedestrianisation of lower North street. Whilst nice to have, I doubt the circa 1,800 on the housing waiting list will consider these things as badly needed.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 18, 2022 at 5:31 am

    This rather smacks of ‘a big boy did it and ran away’.

  4. Howard Smith Reply

    August 18, 2022 at 8:22 am

    I agree, as I am sure many will, with Joss Bigmore [GBC council leader] about the planning system and government rules on viability but I’m afraid he is missing the point.

    Even under the Tory administration, the council managed to add to the number of social homes, on brownfield sites like the old fire station on the by-pass and the Apple Tree site on Southway. As far as I am aware, there has been no such equivalent under the Lib Dem and R4GV coalition.

    It at least gives the impression that this administration just doesn’t have the will to, or the interest in adding to the stock of council-owned housing for the benefit of the people of Guildford.

    Howard Smith is the vice-chair of Guildford Labour

  5. David Ogilvie Reply

    August 19, 2022 at 10:36 am

    The GBC has sold its interest in the North Street site for £5 million with a promise of £5 million to fund the North Street regeneration. This should have been a section 106 trade-off. It remains to be seen if this sum will be sufficient when the work is let to contract.

    The bus station will not be new but a cut-down and refreshed version of what is there now. Will the cut-down bus station cater for the proposed modal shift to public transport and the 15,000 new homes that the Tories gave the green belt away for?

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      September 4, 2022 at 5:37 am

      It will be at least 20,000 new homes, as the developers are allowed to inflate the Local Plan numbers by 40 per cent or more. This precedent was set by Cllr Marsha Moseley, former chair of GBC’s Planning Committee during the debate on Garlic Arch. She said that the Local Plan numbers were a guide, not a cap.

      This will also put 60,000 more cars on our already choked roads.

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